Running with the bulls in Pamplona from the balcony

Pre HofftoExplore (thanks to my travel diary!) July 2013.

Day 1 Friday 5 July

Robyn my fellow Aussie travel buddy and I are at Primark in Oxford St buying last minute Running of the Bulls event essentials aka white shirt and shorts for the opening ceremony on Saturday in Pamplona.

Before you read on, you need to know that as an older, more educated traveller writing this additional comment a few years later, I do not recommend going to Running of the Bulls. The event is a tradition that dates back in time when cattle were herded through the streets en route to the bullring where they would be killed. Just imagine running alongside the bulls knowing they could either be injured or killed. It’s a deep-rooted culture that has become a tourist attraction and I’m embarrassed that I went along as a spectator. If you’re still curious about this local, cultural experience, then read on. 

After our shopping was done we headed out to Heathrow and had little bursts of excitement while lined up for the flight. There was a short stop in Madrid along the way and then finally our flight destination was Pamplona. Once we arrived at the airport we caught a taxi to the El Molino campsite about 20 minutes away. It was 10:30pm when we arrived and it was already dark with people partying. We registered with First Festival travel and were shown to our tent. To get it over with, we rolled out our sleeping bags and blew up our inflatable pillows in preparation for returning later after checking the place out and no doubt having a beverage to celebrate our arrival.

The party at this camp site was well underway. They had dancers there and everything! There were malibu and vodka with pineapple mixers on offer and soon even I got up and had a dance on the stage (as you do… right?!) Nearly dropped a random girl in a bikini who decided to grab my hands and lean out over the edge of the stage. Once she had all her weight back on the stage I quickly let go. I’m not going to be responsible for that!

During our first night I managed to break my bag strap, lose an earring and take our new kiwi friend to first aid after spotting that his foot was pouring out blood which he was sharing with everyone in every dance step. He was given a bandaid, not even a wash, and off he went! Saw the poor guy with a massive limp the next day and no memory of us.

Day 2 Saturday 6 July – Opening ceremony day in Pamplona

We woke up, got ready and found some bread at the campsite shop (literally a baguette with nothing in it – wishing we had selected the breakfast option as part of the First Festival tour package!) and waited for the bus. We were dressed in mostly white and had our little red handkerchief tied around our wrist ready for the ceremony at midday. The bus trip was not our friend. The bus trip into Pamplona from El Molino campsite is around 20-30 minutes and it felt like forever. Tip: it costs 50 euros to clean the bus if you’re ‘sick’. Mind over matter!

Picture from escapenormal.com

Picture from escapenormal.com

We stopped at the supermarket and bought some sangria and water. The place was packed. Everyone was buying sangria, eggs and flour to throw at everyone. Robyn and I followed the First Festival tour guides in to the Main Square which was the area that wasn’t going to be as packed as Town Hall. Not long after midday (slight delay due to some technical difficulties) the cannons went off and we all held our handkerchiefs in the air and chanted Viva San Fermin and tied the handkerchiefs around our necks. Then we soaked one another in sangria. Lucky for Robyn and I we only got a small bit of egg on us. Not that it mattered anyway! We got amongst it! We then made friends with a bunch of Australians. We all held hands and led each other through the crowded streets of Pamplona (had a bit of a dance along the way!), sussing out where the bull run would be held tomorrow and trying to find the White Horse, the pub where the First Festival people were going to be meeting around 2pm.

We found it and at that point Robyn was not well. A few Spanish guys asked if she was okay and she attempted to eat a baguette (with filling this time!) Once Robyn was feeling better we slowly started to venture back towards the centre because White Horse was ridiculously packed. We didn’t make it very far before half the group made friends with some locals. We went to join them and I had a Spanish guy suddenly pouring me a San Miguel! But we were keen to head back to the campsite and relax in the pool so a few of us said goodbye to the others and attempted to find the bus stop. Fail. The bus was leaving at 4pm and we had left around 3:30pm. Well we got lost and in the end just found an ATM, wandered through some markets and found a shady park to hang in. We finally moved around 8pm! Such a beautiful park! And hunger had well and truly set in!

We found a very meaty looking food place nearby. The guy out the front even offered the boys if they wanted to go hunting later that night! Was my first time eating pork ribs! Robyn spilt her sangria all over her but it didn’t matter! We were all covered in it anyway! Well after all that we missed the last bus back to the campsite at 10pm so went to find a cab.

It was a 5am start in the morning so after a bit more chat and frivolities it was time for bed.

Day 3 Sunday 7 July – Bull run day!

Ready to run

Ready to run

Was tough to get up this morning! And nearly spooning Robyn because it was so chilly during the night! Finally up, dressed and on the bus. Once we arrived there, Robyn and I were told we were on separate balconies. Our tour guide introduced me to a Spanish guy who then led me by myself to his place. We were weaving in and out of the barricades that were set up for the run, and at one stage we were walking the path where the bulls would soon be running. I was up on the balcony at 7am. The bull run was due to start at 8am. I found myself in a local Spanish apartment with no other tourists or anyone who could speak English. Umm hola! They were friendly, made me coffee and had lots of treats prepared. It was very lovely. I was hanging out the window with my coffee and biscuit looking at all the people in the crowded street ready to be trampled, and saw my mate Derrick waving! I went over to the balcony on the other side of the loungeroom and spotted our Aussie friends from yesterday. I was really nervous for them! A few times people were being stupid and pushing the crowd. It was like watching dominos as they all swayed and tried to stay upright.

Running of the bulls

Running of the bulls

Soon it was 8am and the cannons went off! Everyone started to run. I could see the bulls running behind them. But our new Aussie friends were around dead man’s corner and couldn’t see the bulls coming. I was trying to wave at them to say GO! But they didn’t see me… they obviously wanted to run with the bulls otherwise they would’ve joined everyone else in their fleeing! After they were out of sight, one of the Spanish guys tugged at my shirt to come inside and watch the rest of the bull run on the TV. It showed a few people piled up on one another and one guy panicked and grabbed the bull’s horn. Note to anyone who ever does the bull run, don’t ever touch the bull or you may be beaten by the Spanish. I didn’t see anything happen to the guy on TV but I am told it happens. So after 5 minutes it’s all over. They all end up in the arena. I relaxed on the couch until the main guy who led me there agreed to help me get back to the 9:30am bus. I needed to go back to the campsite for a sleep! I made it back but no sign of Robyn. So snooze time for me. Robyn eventually arrived back. There were a few busloads to get through. I must’ve been on one of the first ones. I later heard one of the girls say they’d been punched in the face by a local at the start of the run. Apparently they strongly oppose women participating!

We slept in the shade around our tents for a few hours. Then went to the pool for a drink and a swim. One of our Aussie friends joined us. No sign of the others. But I was told they’re all alive so that’s good news. They left on a bus at 7pm so Robyn and I made some new friends! We all went for a walk down to the river. It started getting dark. Two Canadian guys ran and jumped in the water. I was feeling brave enough to join them but then kind of chickened out. I was standing at the end of the pier with one of them and we counted 1 – 2 – 3 with what I assumed was a plan to jump together. Then! He just pushed me in and didn’t get in himself. I quickly scrambled back up the ladder because being in dark water at the very final stages of sunset kind of freaked me out! A few other people came down and chatted with us before we decided to move onto the next adventure for the evening.

On our way we met some people who said they knew where we could find a hidden weir. So off we went through a bush and found a pier with rushing water and mountains that kind of looked like they had snow on them in the dim light. After admiring the view for a while, our adventure was over for the day as we could no longer stay awake!

Day 4 Monday 8 July – Last day in Pamplona

The hidden weir

The hidden weir

We tried to get up at 5am to go into Pamplona again today on the bus but couldn’t physically get up. All the party goers had kept us awake until not long before 5am. So today we just chilled around the pool, checked out the weir during daylight and reminisced about the last few days. We got ready and started waiting for a taxi around 2pm. It was madness trying to get a taxi along with everyone else. We managed to get on a 3pm bus into Pamplona and then a taxi to the airport. Or should I say, aeropuerto de Pamplona. The flight was really delayed and we thought we were going to miss our connection in Madrid. Almost did! We ran about 1km through the airport and just made it onto our flight. The best part about that was the plane took off almost straight away and we were back in London in no time. Got home about 1am. Don’t want to go to work tomorrow! Or today rather!